5 Ways to “Chef-ify” Your Packaged Foods

Think like a chef and learn to transform everyday packaged foods into gourmet meals with these easy tips and tricks.

Photo: Ashley Capp

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It would be amazing if we could make everything we eat from scratch, but that isn’t reality for most of us. (If that’s you, what’s your secret?) Store-bought packaged foods are a fact of life. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to just settle for what you get. With a little bit of know-how and a few strategic pantry ingredients, you can elevate those boxed and bagged items and make them your own. Here are some favorites along with some gourmet tricks on how to make even some of the simplest packaged foods feel like it was made by a chef.

1. Pizza crust

Look, we love pizza, and there’s nothing wrong with simply topping a frozen crust with sauce and cheese and calling it a day. But you can do so much more with it, if you just think of pizza crust as a blank canvas. Certainly classic pizza variations like mushroom and onion work well. But how about leftover barbecue or curried chicken, a tuna melt, or breakfast favorites like fried eggs and smoked salmon? Or drizzle a crust with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped garlic and bake, then top with baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and freshly shaved Parmesan. (For a totally clean cauliflower crust, we love this one.)

2. Marinara

Start with a jarred sauce that’s made without sugar. From there, you can dress up this healthy pantry staple by adding protein. Stir in cooked ground grass-fed beef or turkey, or use the sauce as a base to bake eggs or poach chicken. Give the sauce a different flavor profile and added health benefits by stirring in harissa (a spicy Middle Eastern chile paste), or jazz it up with some dried spices in your pantry, such as Italian seasoning, dried basil or dried oregano. Stir in a spoonful of red wine while you’re warming the sauce, or chop up some soft goat cheese and stir it in for a fast creamy tomato sauce. If you’re short on time, just whisking in a little unsalted butter or good quality olive oil and some fresh pepper will give the sauce a boost.

3. Hard-cooked eggs

Who says deviled eggs are only for parties? Make some for yourself, just because, with store-bought hard-cooked eggs. Stir in things like turmeric, fresh herbs or shredded beets. Or chop up hard-cooked eggs and fold together with avocado and a few spices for a simple egg salad. Cover them with uncooked sausage and bake for indulgent scotch eggs. Or chop them, mix with minced cornichons, capers, mustard, olive oil and vinegar and turn them into a fancy gribiche sauce, delicious on roasted baby potatoes, steamed asparagus or roasted salmon.

4. Rotisserie chicken

A pre-roasted chicken is a gift on its own for a meal on a busy weeknight. But with just a little bit of extra time, you can use it to create something truly fabulous. Stir it into a rich casserole with broccoli and Buffalo-wing sauce, toss it into a satisfying salad with Brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes, throw together lightning-fast tacos or shred and mix with barbecue sauce for delicious and easy pulled chicken. 

5. Salad dressing

Make sure that you start with a bottle that uses wholesome ingredients; avoid any with fillers, sugar and low-quality oils (we like ones made with avocado oil or olive oil the best). Once you have a bottle or two that you like, you can make some magic happen. Use it as a marinade for steak or chicken, fold a few spoonfuls into hummus or blitz with beans into an easy dip or toss with vegetables before roasting. Mix some with mayo for a new-fangled sandwich spread, stir into mashed potatoes (or sweet potatoes) or slather on corn on the cob before grilling.

For more ways to improve on store-bought foods, check out 5 Ways to Make Store-Bought Foods Healthier. And make sure you know how to discern food labels by reading Decoding Food Labels: Which Seals and Designations Really Matter?

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